The Last Word

Photography Lessons Courtesy of S.D. Sheep

Sheep Industry News Editor

I looked like an inexperienced, young border collie as I stalked the Orwick family sheep in a remote pasture in northwestern South Dakota on Sept. 25. I headed out on a wide path to one side of the flock, but at times I was both over confident and impatient in my attempts to gain control of a couple hundred ewes and their respective lambs.

Every time I thought I had them right where I wanted them, they’d turn tail and run the other direction. The result? Anyone need 300 pictures of sheep butts? If so, just give me a call.

I had similar experiences on the Erk Brothers Ranch (read more about the historic ranching family on page 16), which I visited two days later during my week-long journey through Wyoming and South Dakota at the end of September.

At one point, John Erk managed to push the flock toward a regular watering hole. As I stood 200 yards away on the other side, a few brave souls ventured down for a drink. A lamb attempting to quench its thirst was chastised by mom and quickly returned to the flock. By the end of the day I was up to 500 photos of sheep behinds. Again, if anyone needs a few (or a hundred), I’ll sell them pretty cheap. 

The day after that, my experience changed dramatically, however. I visited the Kitzan ranch in Nisland, S.D., where they routinely supplement traditional grazing with cake. As four wheelers zoomed into the pasture, I saw something I had never seen before: sheep running toward me. It was such a beautiful site after days of nothing but the wrong end pointing my direction that I almost cried. Then I remembered I was supposed to be taking photos and got to work. You can read more about the Kitzan’s in a future issue of the magazine.

I was fortunate at the Orwick Ranch a few days earlier that four newly purchased rams were quarantined in a small pasture. They were pretty startled when I first joined them amongst the high grass, but after 30 minutes of hanging around they loosened up enough to actually look my direction. That’s when I snapped the photo on this page.

I often tell people I’m not a photographer. I’m simply a writer who takes pictures. There is a huge difference, even if I do manage to get a great photo once in a while.

One thing’s for sure, photographing western range sheep is always going to be a test of my skills.

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